Good to Grow owners offer gardening tips

By Amanda Manchester, Herald Reporter
Posted 5/29/24

EVANSTON — For the last 11 years, Barb Martinez and her longtime friend, Leanne Hutchinson, have owned and operated a roughly two-acre pesticide-free farm Good to Grow on the outskirts of …

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Good to Grow owners offer gardening tips


EVANSTON — For the last 11 years, Barb Martinez and her longtime friend, Leanne Hutchinson, have owned and operated a roughly two-acre pesticide-free farm Good to Grow on the outskirts of Evanston.

“After working on other people’s yards, we decided to start a farm, and then a farmers market,” Martinez said. She talked about the transition from their landscaping company they ran together while raising their respective families to their current operation, which is mostly a passion and a labor of love.

Their farm uses zero pesticides, which makes it “better-than-organic,” Martinez said. “We can use OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute)-approved products.”

Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act allows Martinez and Hutchinson to sell their fresh produce, pre-packaged salads and their ever-popular salsa kits at the Evanston Farmer’s Market in Depot Square throughout the summer without inspection. Martinez estimates that the farm will yield 18 weeks of produce, beginning in early June.

“We’re going to get longer winters here,” Martinez said. The farm’s altitude of 6,717 feet requires them to utilize a number of season extenders. They employ a few high gardening tunnels, which are similar to greenhouses in that they provide adequate UV lighting and wind protection, but aren’t heated like a greenhouse would be.

Both within and outside of the tunnels, they use Wall O’ Water plant protectors to warm the soil, which allows for planting opportunities as early as February, depending on the crop. “While they’re still freezing, shape them into the teepees, it keeps the heat in. Water releases heat when it freezes,” explained Martinez.

She then recommended a soil thermometer to determine when the soil is warm enough to plant seeds, each crop requiring a particular temperature. Tomatoes, for instance, require 65 degrees, while most pepper varieties need 80 degrees to thrive.

In addition to the Walls O’ Water, they also recommend other extenders, such as thermal blankets “to protect a few more degrees by keeping the snow and wind out,” Martinez said. “Also, mulch, and LED lighting,” added Hutchinson. Solar mulch, in particular, can raise the soil’s temperature an additional eight to 10 degrees.

They monitor weather forecasts frequently.

“We plan on it being 10 degrees colder than it says it will be,” Martinez said.

Rotating crop locations every two years, particularly for heavy feeders such as tomatoes, is also crucial. This encourages nutrient cycling in depleted soil and decreases plant disease and insect risks.

“Our soil here is nice, too,” said Hutchinson. “We don’t have a lot of rocks. We’ve had it tested, and we’ve started a compost pile, which we add everything — like egg shells, chicken and steer manure … everything but grass clippings. We’ll even compost weeds, just not noxious ones.” 

They also rely heavily on transplants, or starters, that they begin during the winter in an indoor space above Martinez’s garage.

“I think the biggest thing is that people need to plant earlier than they think, before the last frost date. There’s enough sunlight come March,” Hutchinson said.

When the weather warms up enough to bring transplants outside during daylight hours, be sure to enclose them in cages to protect from wildlife such as deer and birds.

During the heavy winter of 2022-23, during which they had six-foot drifts of snow surrounding the tunnels, the ground beneath the drifts never froze, thus, a pocket gophers infestation took hold of the farm.

“They were eating everything they could,” explained Martinez. They’ve recently rescued a couple of outdoor cats that have helped keep rodents at bay.

“One year, it was an army of cutworms! We were very frustrated, we could not figure out what was eating everything,” Martinez said.

They turned to University of Wyoming entomologist Scott Shell, who helped them identify and resolve the issue via online video conferencing.

“He’s always eager to help,” she said.

They also frequently reference YouTube videos, tutorials and the local UW Extension office for troubleshooting.

Both women strongly recommend purchasing quality seeds. They prefer Johnny’s Selected Seed in Maine, Territorial Seed in Oregon and True Leaf Market in Salt Lake City.

“The trick to carrots is pelleted seeds. I hate having to thin them,” Martinez said.

Finally, they rely heavily on a calendar to keep track of planting dates and conditions.

“It’s always an experiment,” Martinez said. “Every year we learn something new and I’ve been gardening my whole life; my mother [had] a green thumb.”

Martinez and Hutchinson announced to the Herald that this year, they’ll be departing from their previously-offered program of pre-selected-and-packaged Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) crop-sharing system on Wednesdays and transitioning to a farm stand setup in which purchasers can select their desired produce directly from the farm on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“This should cut down on food waste, and anyone can come,” Martinez said, explaining that memberships are no longer required. Good to Grow is located at 554 Nacho Rd. in Evanston.

From July through September, the Evanston Farmers Market is held every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Historic Depot Square.